Equifax, one of four credit reporting firms in the US, is the latest company to reveal a major data breach! Discovered on July 29th, and disclosed to the public last week on Sept. the 8th, Equifax revealed the stolen data contained social security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, and in some cases, driving license numbers. Using this data, hackers can open lines of credit or file fraudulent tax returns!

Is the Equifax Breach a Big Deal?

Equifax said 143 million American’s financial records, 209,000 credit cards records, and 182,000 individual’s personally identifiable information were stolen when hackers breach their website.  Based upon previous breaches of this kind we expect these numbers to go up over time. For example, Anthem for instance initially said 43 million records were breached but later confirmed almost 79 million records!

Like the Anthem breach, this is a big deal, because unlike a credit card which is easily replaced when lost or stolen, and where charges are contested with relative ease, your social security number once stolen and in hacker databases, can be used and reused for malicious purposes until the US government finds a replacement scheme for this outdated, misused, and largely insecure number.

Okay, it’s a big Deal, now what should I do?  

  • Freeze your Credit at all Four (4) Credit Reporting Agencies

Yes, there are four credit reporting agencies.  Hackers know this but very few consumers are aware of the little known fourth player in this market: InnovisCybersecurity experts advise consumers to put a Credit Freeze on your account at each credit reporting agency.  Here are the links: Transunion, Equifax, Experion, and Innovis.  In New Hampshire, Experion charged me a $10 fee to do this.  Do it anyways.

Additionally, some of the credit monitoring agencies such as Transunion offered additional notification services such as texting you whenever your credit is pinged.  Enable text alerts if possible to keep track of anyone actively touching your credit data.

Ok, I’ve put Credit Freezes in place, am I all set?

In a word:  No.  Following the Anthem breach hackers allegedly submitted hundreds of thousands of fraudulent tax returns before legitimate tax payers could do so.  Consumers lost time and money regaining access to their own tax accounts. Unfortunately, this could happen all over again with this Equifax breach because hackers likely have the data they need to submit fraudulent tax returns from this breach.  Furthermore, the IRS, while acknowledging this Identity Theft problem, has failed to come up with any safeguards like a Credit Freeze on your tax account.

  • Get your tax documents in order and submit your taxes as early as possible to pre-empt any belated hacker attempt to submit a false return in your name!

Summary

Anytime static data that cannot be recreated is breached there are long-term consequences which is the case with the Equifax breach of Social Security Numbers, birth dates, home addresses, and driving license numbers.  Putting a credit freeze on your account will protect you largely from hackers taking credit out in your name, but doesn’t prevent them from submitting fraudulent tax returns in your name.  Get your tax documents in order and submit as early as possible.

Transunion Credit Freeze:  https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze2
Equifax Trusted ID Premier: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/trustedid-premier/
Experion Freeze Center: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Innovis Credit Freeze: https://www.innovis.com/personal/securityFreeze
https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/identity-protection